4 Face Federal Drug Trafficking Charges after Ultralight Aircraft Used to Smuggle 184 Pounds of Meth from Mexico into United States
RIVERSIDE, California – Four men who used off-road vehicles to retrieve a load of methamphetamine that was smuggled into the United States on an ultralight aircraft and dropped near the Salton Sea are scheduled to make their first court appearances this afternoon on federal narcotics trafficking charges.
The four men were arrested early Friday morning after authorities tracked the ultralight aircraft as it entered U.S. airspace and flew to the area of North Shore, a community on the edge of the Salton Sea. After the aircraft descended to a low altitude, Border Patrol agents observed two off-road utility vehicles leaving the area. Two of the men were in one vehicle and were arrested without incident; the other two were taken into custody after they fled from a marked Border Patrol vehicle and drove into the Coachella Canal.
The four men were named in a criminal complaint filed Saturday that charges each with one count of possession with the intent to distribute methamphetamine, which carries a statutory maximum penalty of life in federal prison.
The four defendants are Victor Bugarin-Perez, 28, of Mecca; Juan Favela-Paredez, 25, a Mexican national in the United States illegally; Juan Carlos Iturriaga-Centeno, 33, a Mexican national in the United States illegally; and his brother, Leonardo Iturriaga-Centeno, 28, of North Shore.
According to the affidavit in support of the criminal complaint, the Border Patrol and the Air and Marine Operations Center in Riverside tracked the ultralight as it crossed the international border near Calexico. After radar surveillance indicated that the ultralight descended and then headed back to Mexico, a California Highway Patrol aircraft saw two vehicles. The two vehicles left the area and were intercepted by a marked Border Patrol vehicle. A Polaris off-road vehicle with the Iturriaga-Centeno brothers stopped, but a Can-Am vehicle with the other two men sped away. The Can-Am vehicle was driven into the Coachella Canal, and the Border Patrol rescued Bugarin-Perez and Favela-Paredez when they were unable to exit the canal.
After the men were taken into custody, authorities recovered from the canal 26 Tupperware containers that contained a total of 184.5 pounds of methamphetamine. Two GPS devices were found in the Polaris, which authorities believe were attached to the narcotics dropped from the ultralight.
A criminal complaint contains allegations that a defendant has committed a crime. Every defendant is presumed innocent until and unless proven guilty in court.
This investigation is being conducted by the Drug Enforcement Administration.
This matter is being prosecuted by Assistant United States Attorney Benjamin J. Weir of the Riverside Branch Office.